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Behind William Latta’s Many Layers

Painter William Latta, who’s first solo show is now on display at Eli Ping Frances Perkins Gallery, uses layered textures of paint to create unique canvases that elicit consideration and debate. We spoke with Latta about his first experience with art in a church, his mental process when creating, and the essential yet pointless nature of painting.


What was your first experience with art?

Growing up my parents took my brother and me to church every Sunday. I would sit there and stare straight into the face of the crucified Jesus hanging behind the altar and all I could think about was the fact that somebody had taken some wood and paint and made it come to life. How it was done and why became huge questions for me. All those Sundays sitting there gave me time to eventually realize that everything from crucifixes to entire belief systems are made by people. An artwork is a belief or at least its proposal. Any belief, no matter how far fetched can be valid, even sacred, if its advocate is convincing enough.


What is the process behind your paintings?

Modern painting had two problems:what to paint and how to paint it. My work doesn’t have problems or solutions; they are one and the same— what I’m painting is how I paint it. Paint is potential, powered by everything I know, and everything I am. Painting is the act of setting up situations that harness and play with that potential. This enables transcendence and the amplification of my immediate physical gestures. That transcendence in turn opens new possibilities of facture. It’s a generative cycle of various latencies.

How do you know when they are finished? Are they ever finished?

Recognizing when a painting is finished can be elusive and easy to overlook. Often the work gives me guidance towards what it needs or will completely surprise me. It’s not always that I have to change the painting. Sometimes a painting sits untouched and reveals itself as complete over time because I’ve changed enough to see it. Finishing a painting is turning a dead end into a door and then leaving behind what I’d gained in order to walk through it. The best part about finishing a painting is that behind that door are innumerable other doors I get to open, innumerable other possibilities for making paintings.


What draws you to a specific color or texture of paint for each painting?

Trying to know unknowable things about living. We are creatures that want to know. To me existence gets both endlessly bigger and bigger and smaller and smaller. I call it infinity in both directions.

Do you have specific influences behind specific pieces?

Always, but I don’t need or want to share them. My words can only compromise how an individual painting can be experienced by someone else. All the information that any viewer needs is right there, the painting itself is the most accurate description of its influences that I can give.


In the art world or beyond, what do you think there is too much of, and too little of?

It seems like there’s a lot of entitlement in the name of progress without consideration. I think every advancement is it’s own god to be debated and game to be played. That’s why I love painting, because at its best, it elicits consideration and debate. Painting is contemporary art’s favorite sport and religion. Like sports and religion, painting makes people strive to do amazing things, crazy things, and awful things. It’s as essential as it is pointless. Whatever angle you take you have to want to believe in it. You have to give it your time and consideration, which is hard in a world where most everything is determined by an arms race mentality.

What are you currently working on?

More paintings.

What is your WILD Wish?

Pepperoni Pizza.

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text by: Kate Messinger

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